Cédric Tiberghien on his 2014/15 season, his love of photography and Russian novels…

Author: Charlotte Gardner

This week Cédric Tiberghien opens his Artist in Residence programme with the Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg with performances of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto no. 2. Cédric will have a strong presence throughout the season with no fewer than five visits, including chamber music with the orchestra’s string principals, a duo recital of Mozart with Alina Ibragimova and a solo recital featuring Berg and Schubert. The collaboration ends on a high in June 2015 with Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 3.

Cédric introduces himself to his French audiences and is the featured artist in Autumn edition of  the Strasbourg Philharmonic publication ‘Les Clés’. He also found time to chat to Charlotte Gardner about the rest of his 2014/15 season, his love of photography and Russian novels…

It’s hard to know where to start you’re doing so many interesting things at the moment! Let’s start with your 2014/15 residency with the Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg, though.
Yes, let’s!

What are you most enjoying so far?
Well, firstly I’m delighted to be working with a French orchestra again, because for a few years I was working a bit less in my homeland. Of course I was very busy and I never get bored, but I was pleased when work started again in France two or three years ago, and this residency with a very good French orchestra has made me very happy. Secondly, when you work with an orchestra as a soloist, you rarely have time to meet the musicians. It’s never very personal. So, the fact that I can work several times with an orchestra in a row means that I will know people much better. This, I think, will make us play much better, because there will be a human contact. I will be part of the orchestra, rather than just being a guest artist coming in and then leaving.

It isn’t just the big orchestral works you’re performing with the orchestra, either. In December you’re performing Mozart’s G minor piano quartet and Schubert’s “Trout” with the string principals.
Yes. When they invited me to be an artist in residence and asked what I’d like to do with them, the first thing I said was that I wanted to play chamber music with the musicians. Partly for the human contact I’ve just talked about, and also because chamber music is central to who I am. It was the main way I used to develop my musical personality, meeting with people, sharing ideas, even sometimes not agreeing. Also, as a soloist it’s so good to not be alone, but instead to be with people and share a moment.

You’ve planned a really broad spread of repertoire over the course of the residency – the Mozart and Schubert we’ve just talked about, Beethoven’s second piano concerto conducted by Eliahu Inbal in late November, but also Berg in your March solo recital, and Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto in June. That last one is particularly different to everything else you’re performing. What made you choose it?
I played it fifteen years ago, and always wanted to return to it because it’s incredibly inspirational. Then, recently, I rediscovered Rachmaninov’s music with the late pieces such as The Isle of the Dead, the second and third symphonies, and the Symphonic Dances, and I really felt that now was the time to come back to the concertos because I have things to say. Also, of the works I’m going to play with Strasbourg, there’s lots of Vienna influence with Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Berg. I wanted to say something different as well, and people don’t really expect me to be a Rachmaninov player. I like to surprise people.

The other major collaboration at the moment is your Beethoven cycle with ONDIF (Orchestre National d’Île de France). How did that come about?
It started with a real friendship with Enrique Mazzola, the chief conductor of the orchestra. We met eight years ago to play a Beethoven concerto with ONDIF, and there was an instant easiness in the communication, both on the human and on the musical side. So, when they called me back later and asked if I would like to work with Enrique Mazzola again, I thought it would be really wonderful. It’s a great opportunity to be in Paris every season, and also a wonderful opportunity to play each concerto many times: the way the orchestra works is to have one concert at a big hall in Paris (so far it has been Salle Pleyel, and from next year it will the new Philharmonie), but also many, many concerts in the suburbs. Often, these are in very tough acoustics because there aren’t proper concert halls there – just halls that might also be used for conferences, pop concerts or even cinemas – but it’s always an incredible opportunity to work with the orchestra. For example, last year we played the same concert of Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto and the Choral Fantasy eight times in the space of two weeks. In other words, we basically spent two weeks being together every day, playing the same work every day. It was a great opportunity to make it better, and the last concert, in Salle Pleyel, was so easy. Everyone was so relaxed and inspired. So this cycle is really very exciting.

Running alongside your affinity for Beethoven and your other core repertoire, you’ve also got some very unusual strands to your work. The Dubois recording last year for Hyperion was a big success, and few people had even really heard of him as a composer! Did you know Dubois’s music before?
No. I knew that Concerto No.2 existed, and that it was in F minor, which made me want to have a look because it’s quite an unusual key and I’m very sensitive to keys and their colours. Then, when I read it, I thought it was very, very inspired and very nice. However, the idea came from Hyperion, and when I looked at the rest of the disc’s repertoire I thought, “Pfut, it’s going to be boring”. Still, I said, “Okay, let’s do it”, and then it was a shock! Exploring this music a little bit deeper, I fell in love with it, and then the recording session was one of the happiest I’ve ever had. I won’t say nobody had believed in it up to that moment, but Dubois is a second rate composer – he composed a little at a time when Debussy was already there, plus other more important composers. Yet suddenly, everyone was so happy to be playing. The producer was so excited with it, the BBC Scottish Orchestra gave so much energy, and the conductor, Andrew Manze, brought so much life to it. It was just happiness for three days, and I think this joy and happiness translates on to the recording. People said that they were really surprised to feel so much life in these works.

The other less well known composer you’re now very associated with is of course Symanowski.
Ah yes! Szymanowski is a big love.

What drew you to him and his music?
It’s actually quite funny because the first time I heard Szymanowski’s music I was in London, staying with a friend, Paul Kilday, who was manager of the Wigmore Hall at the time. He had a Szymanowski CD box out, with Simon Rattle conducting, and asked me whether I knew Symphony No.4. I’d never heard anything by Szymanowski, so he suggested I listen to it, and then we could just talk about it. I was shocked because what I heard was so beautiful. I didn’t expect it to be that beautiful. I thought, how is it possible that there was a discrepancy between the beauty of it, and what people know about Szymanowski? And even the solo piano repertoire, nobody plays it. So, that was the first meeting with Szymanowski, and I made a mental note that I wanted to play the symphony one day (and eventually did in February 2013 with the Seattle Symphony). Then, I recorded the complete violin music with Alina Ibragimova and, well, it was just obvious that I had to come to his piano music. So, I started with some little dances, mazurkas that I played together with Chopin’s piano music, making the Polish connection.  However, my dream was to play Masques, a huge triptych that in my opinion is as extraordinary as Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit, but much less played. So, when Hyperion told me that they really wanted to work with me, I suggested Szymanowski. They agreed, and it was a wonderful experience.  I’m still playing some Szymanowski next month in Amsterdam.

Yes, that will be your debut at the Musiekgebouw. The programme you’ve chosen for that concert is a richly rewarding one for listeners. How did you choose it?
Well, it was obvious that there would be Szymanowski, because I want to play it as much as I can just to make people realise that he is a major 20th century composer. He has to become a mainstream, I think. Then, there are many connections between Szymanowski and Ravel in the piano, and even the orchestral, writing; textural similarities, and of course the liquid element is everywhere. So, I had to play either Gaspard de la nuit or Miroirs, and I really love Miroirs at the moment. The connections between Miroirs and Masques are very strong. In the Szymanowski there is a Don Juan serenade directly connected to Alborado del gracioso by Ravel, and indeed each piece has a little connection. It really works. Finally, of course, I’m just starting work on a complete set of Bartok solo piano works for Hyperion, so it really made sense to put them all together. Bartok’s another composer who, in a way, is not as well known as he should be, even though in the musical world everyone knows that he is a genius.

For your Symphony Center Presents debut in Chicago in May, Szymanowski’s still there, but now alongside two French composers, Ravel and Debussy. How does it feel to be performing this very French-sounding programme there?
Well, it has always been a dream to play in Chicago. Hopefully, one day I’ll work with the Chicago Symphony. The day my manager calls me and says, “Chicago Symphony”, I’ll just jump! As for the programme, as a French musician I’ve always played French music, and Debussy is probably the French composer I love the most. So when Chicago asked for this French programme it was very easy to put together all of the things I love so much. The Debussy Préludes, and Debussy’s L’ile joyeuse. L’ile joyeuse is a piece that, if you wake me in the middle of the night, I can just play it! Plus, it’s an opportunity to show how wide the French repertoire is; even early Debussy is very different to late Debussy, and it’s impossible to mistake Ravel for Debussy.

Let’s talk about you and Alina Ibragimova, this wonderful chamber collaboration that’s been going for years. Why do you think you work so well as a duo?
I was incredibly lucky that we met in 2005, thanks to the BBC’s New Generation Artists scheme. Our very first concert together was the Ravel Piano Trio at the City of London Festival, and from the beginning it was always very obvious and natural. We never spoke for hours deciding something. It has always come by itself, very easily. She gives me so much inspiration through the way in which she uses the technique of her instrument, her articulation, and the way in which she organises phrases. And I bring a lot to her, particularly around harmonies, and the way in which a harmony can give colour or draw attention.

You’ve just recorded volume one of the Mozart. How has that been?
Oh it’s been really wonderful. Sometimes, when you have to work on something it can be laborious, but with the Mozart it was just happiness. It came very naturally. We’re recording not just the major sonatas, but also the very early wunderkind sonatas that he wrote when he was seven or eight years old. People told us that those early ones were a little bit boring – he was so young, they’re very simple and sometimes empty – but we enjoyed ourselves so much with them, connecting with their innocence and playfulness. I think it’s going to be very nice.

It sounds it! Now, moving away from talk of repertoire and projects, what do you do to relax?
I like walking very much. Walking in Paris is a wonderful thing. The energy there is very different from London energy. Then, when I’m travelling, I like reading. I know it’s a bit weird, but I like books that make me travel. I’m a great fan of Andreï Makine, a Russian writer who writes in French and lives in France. His books are all about Russia and, although I’ve never been to Siberia, through those books my spirit feels as though it knows what you feel when you’re there. Then, what I really love and want to do more of again is photography. Years ago when I had more time because I was working less, I took about 6000 pictures in one year. It was a real passion. I especially love composing pictures; you have to really think of lines, perspective, balance, and where you want to put objects, just like a painter. I really love taking photos of architecture too, even though that’s a very hard field. 

Finally, what are you most looking forward to about the future?
That’s a good question. I don’t know. Everything is exciting for me. Just discovering new things, meeting new people, and working again with people I really like. For example, I’m working with Simone Young again in May, performing Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto just before I perform it with the Strasbourg. She’s a very old friend, and working with her always gives me so much energy.

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